Archives For Oklahoma Probate

What happens to a person’s property when they die in Oklahoma?

There is a detailed answer in this post, What happens to a person’s property when they die?

The shorter answer is that it goes to your relatives, the people you chose in your last will and testament or Oklahoma revocable trust. If you own real property outright and pass away you will need a court order in an Oklahoma probate case to change the title from the person who passed away to his heirs.  There are several ways to avoid this results.  One way is the Oklahoma transfer-on-death deed.

Oklahoma Transfer-on-Death Deed

The Oklahoma TOD allows you to set up your real property to pass to another person after you die.  You sign and record the Deed with the Oklahoma county clerk in the county where the property is located. The person you giving the property to does not become the owner until you pass.  But, when you pass away, . . .

Transfer of the Property after death

The property passes almost automatically, with the person inheriting the property only need to file an affidavit stating that person died, whether the person was married and a legal description of the property.

 

If this is something that interests you or you like to talk about Oklahoma estate planning, please contact me.

 

Image provided by Flickr user Keith Ellwood

Image provided by Flickr user Keith Ellwood

Would you like to know two ways you can change the title to a car owned by a person who died, without going through an Oklahoma probate?

If your answer is “yes”, you have found the right post. 🙂

I have written volumes on this blog about Oklahoma estate planning and a lesser amount about addressing the situation where someone died without doing estate planning.  I would like to provide a few cleanup tools that can be used to avoid probate even after someone didn’t do Oklahoma estate planning.

There are two options that may apply for changing the title to a car owned by someone who died with going through Oklahoma probate.

  1. Oklahoma No Administrator Affidavit.

My experience has been that most tag agents will transfer title to the vehicle following a person’s death when the No Administrator Affidavit is provided.  I wrote about this Affidavit on this blog post.  This document will generally allow the title to a car to be transferred if:

  • A properly completed No Administrator Affidavit is provided;
  • A certified copy of the death certificate is provided; and
  • The facts are such where the person asking for the change in title (ostensibly to themselves) has a clear right to receive the vehicle.
  1. Oklahoma Small Estate Affidavit.

The other option is the Oklahoma Tax Commission’s Small Estate Affidavit.  This document is used to transfer the ownership of a vehicle when:

  • The car is given to someone in a last will and testament,
  • The total value of the estate is not greater than $50,000.00, and
  • The person who is given the car in the last will and testament must sign the Oklahoma Small Estate Affidavit.

 

There are no guarantees of course; even when you think you have done everything correctly, the transfer of title still doesn’t happen.  If you run into this type of issue, give me a call or an email.

From Jerry "Woody" on Flickr

From Jerry “Woody” on Flickr

One of the primary decisions a person has to make after they’ve decided they are going to do Oklahoma estate planning is whether they’re going to go the trust route or the last will and testament route. Both routes allow a person to make decisions about how their estate will be distributed and how their family will be cared for. There are however some things that a person can do with a living trust that the same person cannot do with the last will and testament. I’m going to provide a list of some of these things that will hopefully be helpful is another tool for determining whether you want to go the trust route or the last will and testament route.


 Your family can avoid probate.

As I wrote about in this post,  a Will does not provide any means to avoid probate. If you pass away owning real property that is not jointly titled, your heirs will be going through the probate process at some point. With an Oklahoma trust however, the trust exists and owns the real property the day it is transferred into the trust. Since the Trust is the owner of the real property, the death of an individual does not impact this.  No probate case is required to transfer title to the real property.  Your family saves time and money.

 Protect your privacy.

Privacy is one of the heavily underrated features of a living trust.  How is privacy part of the trust process? To understand this you must understand what happens if a person dies with no living trust. If a person passes away owning real property, investment accounts or mineral interest usually that person’s errors must file a probate proceeding to access the property.Oklahoma probate is a public process. You file a lawsuit in the County Court in which the deceased person lived and all of the documents filed in the lawsuit are publicly available. Not only are the documents publicly available, but with current technology most of the documents can be accessed from any Internet enabled computer. That means anyone can view the documents that are part of the probate case including the last will and testament which often contains personal details and other private family matters.

 Plan for a special needs child.

If you have children, grandchildren, or other dependents with special needs a Trust can be customized to meet these needs, by specifying and limiting access or control over inherited property. A Will allows you to pass on your property to those heirs but a Will in itself does not allow you to exercise substantial control over your heirs use of the property.

 Facilitate your care during disability.

Creating a revocable trust is an excellent way to ensure your property remains available to be used for your benefit if you become incapable of managing your own affairs. While continuity of management is also possible when a durable power of attorney is signed, third parties such as banks, brokers and transfer agents often have more difficulty in dealing with a power of attorney than with a trust. And, if the designated attorney-in-fact is unable to act, the power of attorney may not be usable.  If you become disabled and you have neither a revocable trust nor a power of attorney, an expensive, lengthy, and potentially embarrassing court proceeding is generally required to appoint a conservator or guardian before your property can be used to benefit either you or your family. And even after a guardian has been named, continued court supervision over the management of investments and disbursements is usually required. This can include annual bond fees, annual accounts and additional legal and accounting fees.  A Will is not helpful in this area because it does not go into effect until you pass away.

 Allow your family to have access to your assets at death.

Assets in a revocable trust at the grantor’s death are available to raise cash to pay estate taxes, administration expenses and debts immediately after death, without waiting for a probate decree or issuance of preliminary letters. If the trust is funded prior to death, the property in the trust remains in the trustee’s name before and after the death and is immediately available for liquidation should the need arise.

Why is Oklahoma estate planning important?

I have asked and answered that question hundreds of times both on this blog and in real life. My answer generally is because it protects your family when you are gone. One of the primary protections is disputes over how you would’ve wanted your property to be distributed in your family taking care of.

However, nothing makes the point better than seeing the result of the failure to plan. Let me give you a factual scenario that is rooted in real life events:

Husband and wife Mary in their late 30s. Both have children from previous relationships. They own their home, another rental property and some lake-front property in another part of the state. They live happily for 35 years until husband passes away. Neither husband nor wife has a will or a trust.

Wife, who is now a widow in her late 60s, is left to administer the estate. She is guided by what she believes her husband wanted. However, the husband’s children from his first relationship don’t see things the same way as the wife. With no Will or Trust to resolve the issues, the wife and the children are left to battle in probate court over the property. Although probate is usually a fairly routine, process, this probate is akin to a full-blown adversarial no holds barred lawsuit. Everyone involved believes they knew what husband wanted but nobody has clear enough proof to prevail quickly. Thousands of dollars in attorney fees and incalculable amounts of emotional damage occur throughout the process.

How could this have been avoided?

The Husband could have expressed his wishes on paper, in a last will and testament.

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Gifting into a tax return

While it is not a subject that most people consider often, there are circumstances where a person can make a gift and be required to file a tax return covering the gift and potentially paying tax on the gift. Most people are aware that if you die owning a large enough estate you may have to pay the IRS tax. Many people are also aware that there is an exemption, this year in the amount of $5.3 million, under which you are not required to file a return or pay taxes to the IRS.  What a lot of people don’t think about is that the exemption can be whittled down based on gifts a person makes during their lifetime.

The Annual Exclusion

One way to avoid reducing the lifetime exemption is to take advantage of the annual exclusion.  Each person is entitled to make an unlimited number of gifts each year without any tax consequences provided that the gifts do not exceed the annual exclusion, which in 2014 is $14,000.00. Gifts above the $14,000 number require that the person making the gift file a gift tax return.

What the IRS say about gifts

As the IRS states:

The gift tax is a tax on the transfer of property by one individual to another while receiving nothing, or less than full value, in return. The tax applies whether the donor intends the transfer to be a gift or not.The gift tax applies to the transfer by gift of any property. You make a gift if you give property (including money), or the use of or income from property, without expecting to receive something of at least equal value in return. If you sell something at less than its full value or if you make an interest-free or reduced-interest loan, you may be making a gift.

 The key points

So, here is a summary of how it breaks down:

  • You can gift up to $14,000.00 to just about any person without  return required or tax being owed;
  • You can gift more than $14,000.00 each year to your spouse without a return required or tax being owed;
  • If you gift over $14,000.00 to a person this year, you will need to file a federal gift tax return, IRS Form 709.  The IRS Form 709 is due on or before April 15 of the year following the year that you have made taxable gifts.

 

Remember however that the rules on gift taxes like many other taxes are complicated. You should consult a tax professional before making any final decisions including the decision whether you need to file a return or not

 

The difference between joint tenants and tenants in common is often perplexing but critically important for understanding property ownership rights particularly when there are Oklahoma probate issues. Let me try to explain how it works under Oklahoma real property law.

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The definitions – Joint Tenants – Tenants in Common

Joint Tenancy with a right of survivorship is where two or more individuals own real estate together and each has exactly the same rights in the property as the other owners or co-tenants. Upon the death of a joint tenant, the survivor has legal title and, unless fraud or a trust is established, the survivor will also acquire equitable title.

Tenancy in common is where all the owners have legal right of possession of the real estate but each owner has a separate and distinct title. Subject to the rights of the co-tenant(s), each tenant in common is equally entitled to the use, benefit, and possession of common property. A tenant in common may convey her interest in the real without the other tenants in common joining in the conveyance (unless it is homestead property, in which event her spouse must join). Tenancy in common is the default manner of taking title – if there is no evidence that the real estate was supposed to be conveyed as a joint tenancy, then title is held as a tenancy in common.

The similarities

  • Both Joint Tenancy and Tenancy in Common are ways of holding title to real estate.
  • Someone would use one of these methods when they own real estate with at least one other person.
  • Under both types, you purchase only a portion of the property, cooperating with other owners who purchase the remaining amount.

 

The differences

Major differences between holding title as a joint tenant and holding title as a tenant in common:

  • Upon the death of one joint tenant, his or her interest automatically passes to the surviving joint tenant, who becomes sole owner. This does not happen with a tenancy in common.
  • A tenant in common can freely sell her interest while a joint tenant can convey her interest in the real during her lifetime, but the joint tenancy interest cannot be devised and will not descend except possibly in the event of the simultaneous death of all the joint tenants.
  • Tenants in common may have different ownership interests. For instance, Tenant A and Tenant B may each own 40 percent of the real estate, while Tenant C owns 20 percent. However, joint tenants obtain equal shares of the property with the same deed, at the same time.

 

Example

An example of where joint tenancy with right of survivorship is commonly use is for homestead property owned by a married couple. The title will typically be held as “joint tenants with right of survivorship.”

Do you know what the Oklahoma summary probate process is?

 

Definition

Summary probate is a shorter, quicker version of a full-blown probate. Rather than there being two hearings in front of the Judge, there is only one hearing, at the end of the process. To give you an idea of what to expect, below is a diagram how the Oklahoma summary probate process usually flows through the court:.

Visualized

Summary Probate

Does your estate qualify?

To qualify for summary probate (technically referred to as “summary administration”), the estate must meet one of the following criteria:

1. The value of the estate is less than or equal to $200,000.00;
2. The decedent has been deceased for more than five (5) years; or
3. The decedent resided In another jurisdiction at the time of death.

Can you explain the difference in duties required by the person who is the Personal Representative and the person who has the Power of Attorney?  

The primary difference between the Personal Representative (“PR”) and the person appointed under a power of attorney the attorney in fact (the “POA”) is that the PR is administering the estate after the person has passed away and the POA is caring for the person while they are incapacitated, but still living.  POA powers terminate upon death.

Personal Representative

  •  The PR is responsible for securing the Last Will and Testament of the decedent (if there is one) and distributing the decedent’s property according to the terms of the Will. There are usually bills to pay, a tax return to file, personal belongings to gather and other items that need to be addressed. In some cases, a probate proceeding may be necessary.  The PR would be responsible for getting this proceeding filed and completed (with the assistance of an attorney).

Attorney in Fact

  •  The POA receives power to act on behalf of the incapacitated person when the person is determined to be incapacitated under the terms of the power of attorney document.  Typically, this is when a determination is made by at least one medical professional that person can no longer care for themselves.
  • The POA is charged with taking care of the incapacitated person’s financial needs, health and welfare needs and other day-to-day to issues.  For example, a POA may pay bills, communicate with the doctors and make decisions about the incapacitated person is going to be cared for.
  •  Legally, it probably makes no difference whether it is the same person who is POA and PR.  However, practically, many times the other spouse is the person chosen to be both the POA and then the PR.  A person who has acted as the POA and then acts as the PR has a bit of an advantage because they already have experience with the decedent’s estate.

 Is it best that whoever is appointed to act following the death of both spouses be the same person?

Whether it is best to have the same person as POA and PR for both spouses if you are both either incapacitated or pass way simultaneously depends on several things.

  • Is the person you appoint to act as POA capable of caring for two incapacitated people at the same time?
  • Will or could that person also have duties to care for minor children as well as the new guardian? Again, if the same person is PR and there is a simultaneous death of both spouses, the person must be capable of administering both estates.  It can be done, it is simply a question of the competency of the person who is appointed.
  • Practically, where there is one person who both husband and wife are comfortable with, that person is often appointed successor PR of both estates.

 

Jane Austen's Will

Have you ever wondered when an Oklahoma probate is actually necessary?

Although a lot of effort is put into avoiding Oklahoma probate, there are times when it is simply the only option to change the title to a piece of property or free up funds held in a bank account.

The result of a probate proceeding is usually a Judge signing an order that transfers title to property. Below are some scenarios in which you might need Oklahoma probate:

1. Real Property.  An unmarried person dies owning a house and title to the house is solely in the deceased person’s name;

2. Life insurance.  A person dies leaving a life insurance policy with beneficiaries who are no longer living;

3. Not transferred to Trust.  A person who has a living trust dies, but has property that was never transferred to the trust such as real property or investment accounts; and

4. Accounts with no beneficiary.  Typically, with retirement accounts, investment accounts and many times on bank accounts, there is the opportunity to name a beneficiary,  This is the person or people who automatically receive the proceeds of the account (with proof of death of the owner and proof of beneficiary identify of course).  If a person does not name at least one beneficiary on an account such as this, that usually means the account is going to probate.  Without probate, the company holding the account will not release it (here are two small exceptions to the general rule: Oklahoma small estate affidavit and Oklahoma affidavit of delivery of personal property).

5. Mineral Interests.  A person dies owning an Oklahoma mineral interest but the interest is not held in a trust and the title is solely in the name of person who dies.  Many times the operator of the Well will not continue to pay royalties without an order from the Oklahoma probate court specifying who the heirs are.

These are general examples but there may be ways in the specific situation to secure the funds without probate.

Another resource for figuring out when an Oklahoma probate may be required is the Oklahoma Bar Association’s article Is a Probate needed?

Have you ever wondered what happens if someone dies and you are the person who is keeping their Last Will and Testament for them?

If not, consider this material.

An Oklahoma law that many people may not be aware can have a big impact on a person who holds an Oklahoma Last Will and Testament after the person who made it dies.

Title 58 of the Oklahoma Statutes, Section 21 provides that within 30 days of the date the holder of a Last Will and Testament finds out the person who made the Will has died, the holder has to either (a) deliver the Will to the District Court in the county in which the person who died lived or (b) deliver the Will to the person named as executor in the Will.

If you are the holder of the Will and you do not do this, it makes you “responsible for all damages sustained by any one injured thereby.”

This law applies whether or not you believe there needs to be an Oklahoma probate.

Don’t forget to deliver!